What is Social Media in 2021?

What everybody should know about social media in 2021. As the daily users climb to unprecedented levels, and the average time moves up!

What is Social Media!
Mathew Slavica

Mathew Slavica

Founder, Digital Stand (Sydney), Industry Keynote Speaker. Obsessed with helping our clients grow.

What Everybody ought to know about Social Media.

I have put together this article as a simple way to understand what is social media? It sets out to explain how individuals and businesses are making the most of “modern-day communication.”

Depending on your level of expertise, you may feel you fully understand how social media works. But then again, we might have some surprises for you.

Now there is no point telling you what social media is and how it works without first telling you how effective it can be.

The companies that have embraced this medium include some of the fastest growing companies in the world.

Some of them are known as Unicorns and others by a new term ExO’s or Exponential Growth Organisations.

Below we have listed a few that in a short period have gone from startup to over 1 Billion dollars in market valuation. We have also included a couple of high growth entities.

  • Uber - Founded in 2009 - Market Valuation $48 Billion
  • Warby Parker - Founded in 2010 - Market Valuation speculated at $1 Billion
  • Airbnb - Founded in 2008 - Market Valuation - $13 Billion
  • Stripe - Founded in 2001 - Market Valuation - $1.75 Billion
  • Spotify - Founded 2006 - Market Valuation - North of $7 Billion
  • WhatsApp - Founded 2009 - Acquired by Facebook for 19 Billion
  • Upworthy - Founded in 2012 named the fastest growing media company of all time. By Business Insider and FastCompany.
  • A+ - Founded in 2014 - In under a year, it is one of the 50 biggest websites in the US, and when browsed through Mobile (Top 15). Interesting Fact: Owned by Ashton Kutcher
  • Hubspot - Founded 2006 - Market Valuation $1.36 Billion
  • Snapchat - Founded 2011 - Market Valuation $10 Billion
  • Evernote - Founded 2007 - Market Valuation $1 Billion
  • Square - Founded 2009 - Market Valuation $5 Billion
  • Slack - Founded 2014 - Market Valuation $1.1 Billion

Now we are not saying that social media is purely responsible for their growth. However, we are saying they have an intimate understanding of how social media works. They also understand how to leverage this medium to its fullest extent.

They have all have a deadly one, two punch combination of a great service/product amplified by a deep understanding of social media.

In today's communication age, a brand can grow at exponential rates. By having a great product or service, or a deep understanding of social media.

Combining both is lethal.

Why did I want to write this article about what is social media, and what will you get from it?

Over the last 18 months, we have spoken with a considerable number of organisations. They informed us not only did they know how social media works, they were executing effectively.

Upon probing, we discovered in “almost all” cases that social media is not well understood. By large enterprises or medium-size businesses alike.

We then asked ourselves if so many leading companies do not understand social media then how many other companies might be in the same position?

This article on what is social media seeks to address this question and more.

So we are going to answer a lot of questions in this article about the platforms, social media, content creation, and social media advertising.

You will have a deeper understanding of not only how social media works but what is social media.

What Your Competition May Already Know about Social Media

Before we begin let's talk about the competitive landscape and why it is more important than ever, that your brand, company, or startup gains a deeper understanding of social media and its capabilities.

If you are deep in the space of communication and technology, you will understand that the world is shifting. It is occurring at a far greater rate than most people are aware.

We have leading home appliance manufacturers like GE partnering with 3d Printing companies (Makerbot).

This partnership named First Build has been created to get products to the “market faster.” That means faster than their competitors or potential competitors.

Their Mission: “invent a new world of home appliances by creating a socially engaged community of home enthusiast designers, engineers, and makers, that will share ideas, try them out, and build real products to improve your life.”

From a social media perspective, the important points to note are a socially engaged community. As social media is about building communities.

And enthusiasts who share ideas. Effective social media marketing at its essence is enabling others to share your ideas. If this is done so enthusiastically, the greater the reach and the greater the impact.

Great products, socially plugged in = lethal combination.

Or Uber an app that is dismantling a 100-year old Taxi industry. In Australia, the cost of a Taxi Licence in NSW is a staggering $375k dollars.

Or I can become an Uber driver for a fee of $0, and pay 20% commission on fares. Not to mention that Uber is a more popular company than the traditional taxi service.

We now have app only banks like Number 26 that can only grow via digital word of mouth. Another way of stating social media.

You can buy your Robot for USD 25k. Meet Baxter.

(Image Source: Fast Company)

Artificial Intelligence is about to start a phase of exponential growth.

In essence, your competition and mine has never been greater, or able to execute faster than it can today.

You or I may not even know who our competition is!

But the wonderful thing about our rapidly changing world. There has never been a better time for brands, companies, or individuals to create meaning. This medium is open to anyone and any brand.

What is Social Media?

What is Social Media? Simplistically digital word of mouth. It is everything you know about analogue communication, amplified by social channels and platforms. It can be as simple as telling your neighbour something you are displeased or pleased about. They then share that same message but can do it with a click.

There are a couple of fundamental differences to traditional word of mouth worth noting.

  1. In an American Express study, they discovered 42 people are touched by a positive brand experience when using social media. Compared with 9 in a traditional sense.
  2. Your message is likely shared in the exact format you were hoping it to be. Typically this is because the original content is shared.

Of course, there can also be a lot of user-generated content around your messaging.

One good message can travel the world in minutes or hours, and be shared millions of times.

For those companies who are building skill in being able to leverage this, they can change markets. They can influence market positions rapidly.

An example of this would be Oreo becoming the number 1 biscuit provider in China. They then took this knowledge applying the same formula to the Indian market. Not surprisingly with the same effect, but at a rate five times faster than they achieved in China.

It is important to note that the Indian market is also the largest market in the world for biscuits at 22%. Oreo had no presence at all as of March 2011 when they launched. From its launch, Oreo has gone from a little over 1% to a 30% market share.

China happens to be the second-largest market in the world.

As you might expect their Facebook page also happens to be one of the fastest-growing Facebook pages in the world.

Why Should any Company use Social Media?

For the same reason, anyone runs advertisements, to sell their services and grow their business. What is not yet commonly understood, is that organisations using social media effectively and measuring attribution are showing a 20% reduction in advertising costs. They are also showing a 25% gain in the margin.

In one of Digital Stands' case studies, we have reduced a client's expenditure on advertising by 90%.

If we use Facebook as only one small example of what can be achieved, the success stories are endless. This includes Michael Kors, Gillette, to lesser-known brands like Griffins, and 29CM.

Examples of companies that have grown only through social media include Warby Parker, TOM’s, and Black Milk Clothing.

In a lot of cases these companies had no funds for traditional marketing and had to learn what social media was, and how it worked. The benefits of which have been profound.

Black Milk started in 2009 with no budget, no revenue, and within six years they are reporting revenue of $88 million.

Who Uses Social Media?

There are billions online. The latest statistics from the Internet World Stats have this calculated at 2.45 billion.

Of that 2.45 billion there is approximately 1.39 billion are on Facebook. The number is growing every single month).

There are

  • 1 billion total users of YouTube
  • 300 million on LinkedIn
  • 700 million using WhatsApp
  • 4-500 million tweets sent per day
  • 300 million active users on Instagram
  • 300 million active users on Google+
  • 70 million users on Pinterest

Not mentioned above but certainly worthy of note, are the platforms like Snapchat, Periscope, Meerkat and Tumblr that are also growing at exponential rates.

Live video streaming (Periscope and Meerkat) is a new form of social media. The engagement has exploded in recent weeks.

Also, worth noting is the Periscope URL “periscope.tv.”

When I talk about social media, please note what I mean is new mainstream media.

How Big Can the Impact Be?

If you do not yet understand the leverage of digital word of mouth, then this is the amazing part.

A brand starting can grow from zero dollars in revenue to hundreds of millions of dollars in extremely short periods of time.

Social media marketing is not like traditional marketing and does not follow the same linear path. 5 to 10 years' worth of awareness and brand creation can be done in 12-24 months.

It shortens the cycle dramatically and changes the paradigm.

Brands like Black Milk, Warby Parker, TOM’s, Dollar Shave Club and many others have achieved this success using social media as their only vehicle of advertising.

Dollar Shave Club started with a $5,000 Video and a YouTube account. Launching on March 6, 2012, they are now on pace in 2014 to hit 60 million dollars in revenue.

As mentioned earlier bigger brands like Oreo have been able to shape markets through social media.

After introducing Oreo to the Chinese market, and failing miserably initially, Oreo decided to try another path.

This time they enlisted the support of Yao Ming a local hero, and famous Chinese basketball player. It was a “Twist, Lick and Dunk” campaign where children and mothers could play online together. They then encouraged mothers to share these moments on Qzone (a Chinese social media network).

The campaign resulted in 40 million user-generated moments.

The campaign started it all and helped make Oreo the number 1 cookie in China. It was a dramatic turnaround after more than a decade of failing in this market.

The learnings from China, clearly being invaluable to Oreo when they took on the Indian market in 2011 and became the number 1 cream biscuit in the world's largest market.

Why Does Any Company Use Social Media?

We would love to say that most companies are using social media because they see it as an economical and highly leveraged path to growth. It is not the case; most companies are using social media, like a me-too channel. If the competing company is using it, then we must too.

It is why most are using it so ineffectively and without purpose. Most brands are using traditional media agencies, and they are treating social media like a campaign. Social is a conversation; social is a relationship, social is about engagement.

Traditional agencies themselves do not understand these platforms and make a higher margin through conventional media. So the incentive to allocate an appropriate budget to social is also low.

Who pays? The client pays.

Unfortunately, traditional agencies are also using the channels incorrectly, through repetitive conventional marketing messages. In social media, this is the quickest way to disenfranchise your client base is to keep saying the same thing over and over again.

When "here is our car loan" appears 20 times in someone's news feed with the same imagery, it does more to turn the consumer off the brand.

Then, of course, you have the brands who do the same thing over and over regarding content creation. As an example, they may be in the FMCG space and decide people like recipes, and we sell food, so we will keep posting recipes.

How easy do you think those brands would be to disrupted by a brand that understands social media and how to engage an audience truly?

What is the Cost of Social Media?

Yes just like any other form of marketing there is a cost to social media. Uniquely though because social media is digital and across platforms, the content you create is always available. The content can be repurposed unlike a TV ad, Billboard, or Radio Advertisement.

With Social Media, you have three ways of benefiting, by creating Owned, Earned, and Paid Media and amplifying all of these resources through social.

1. Owned Media

Content that is created by you, or one of your agents. This content can be used across multiple social platforms. It resides at your hub (social platform or website) and can be used again at later dates if it is evergreen content.

Content like “how to save for a home.” The principles can be timeless, and this content can be re-used and repurposed year after year.

  1. A brand can create
  2. PodcastsVideos
  3. Videos
  4. Tweets
  5. Instagram Tips
  6. Blog posts
  7. LinkedIn Articles
  8. Infographics

Social creates a wonderful opportunity to leverage brand created assets.

2. Earned Media

Earned media is simply content you create, or created by your supporter base (user-generated content) that amplifies your brand. Essentially this is publicity that you have not paid for, but you get the associated benefit of the content.

It can be mentions, likes, pins, retweets, video parodies, gifs and much more. An example of this would be where Nike created an ad starring Kobe Bryant.

The Ad achieved 6 million direct views, but with earned media, it grew to over 42 million. Fans were re-posting or creating parodies of the ad.

Social advertising today is factoring this in from the outset and seeks to drive shareable, and engaging content.

Planning for shared content should be part of any decent social media campaign. Because if the audience is not engaged, your brand has not tapped into the power of social.

3. Paid Media

Social advertising. Just like any other form of advertising, there is a direct cost of promoting your message and content.

The cost of reaching the same audience is significantly cheaper than traditional media. The interaction far more defined and targeted.

The difference being you are targeting your exact demographic and target audience.

For example on Facebook:

  • You can target 25-40-year-olds who live in New York.
  • You can target 18-a 24-year-old females who live in Sydney.
  • You want to target anyone who visited your website in the last 180 days.
  • You want to take your email marketing list and target those users.
  • Want to take your email marketing list, and your website visitors and create an audience that looks the same and targets them? You can do that too.
  • You want to target your competitor's Facebook audience, again no problem.

With all the platforms, it is fair to say that Facebook is by far the most advanced. However, Twitter and LinkedIn are close behind. Recent developments in both Snapchat and Instagram promise some very powerful opportunities.

How scalable and flexible is Social Media?

The flexibility in social media is unique when it is compared with traditional media.

With any social media campaign, you can test content, copy, headlines and conversions without spending or committing to significant sums.

By contrast, if we create a campaign for print media, once we have bought the media and committed the copy we are locked in.

If the campaign proves to be a fruitless endeavour halfway through we are unable to cease this campaign. Our money was lost. The ads are printed, the commercials have aired, and the race has been run.

With social, you can test your campaign and message at a very low-cost rate, and then amplify what is working.

It protects your downside and maximises your upside.

Or put another way because you are marketing in real-time, you can change, alter, enhance or remove non-performing assets. With traditional advertising, the costs are sunk, and commitments are made.

What is Real-Time Marketing?

An example you may know of in popular culture is “The Oreo Blackout Tweet” 2013. Taking advantage of a real-time situation in the third quarter of the Super Bowl XLVII when a power outage occurred at the Superdome, and the lights were out for 34 minutes.

Oreo tweeted this message “power out, no problem,” “you can still dunk in the dark.”

Power out? No problem. pic.twitter.com/dnQ7pOgC

— Oreo Cookie (@Oreo) February 4, 2013

The tweet itself was shared more than 20,000 times and achieved 525 million earned impressions. 5 x the number of people who watched the super bowl.

Not bad for a single Twitter message and image? Everyone was soon asking what social media is, and how it works.

However, this was not achieved by chance. Oreo intimately understands social media and had a team from their agency on stand-by. They were ready and waiting to execute.

The above tweet an example of real-time marketing is about creating content in advance related to events. Brands seek to enter the social conversation naturally, and uniquely.

It is planning meets opportunity meets growth.

The Downside of Not Understanding Social Media

In Brian Solis (world-leading authority and digital and new media) book, “what is the future of business.”

He identifies an example where “United Airlines missed an opportunity to connect with Ryan Sarver, who has 276,000 followers.

Ryan had a bad experience with United, and he was sharing this with a friend who also happened to have 420,000 followers at the time.”

These two individuals combined eclipse United Airlines' online twitter following by almost six times. If United simply monitored and responded professionally, imagine how they could have turned the situation around?

Yes like a lot of brands they too were using social media but did not understand it.

The leaders in large organisations are not always aware of problems, and social has the potential to spread like wildfire.

It also provides transparency on issues that management cannot be across and aware of at all time, but if something goes wrong, they need to be.

Monitoring the social landscape allows a quick and effective response.

What is Content Creation?

For those brands engaged in social media, the biggest challenge we hear about often is content creation. Coupled with timing and distribution.

When it comes to creating content the best way to think about this challenge is.

  1. Who am I trying to reach?
  2. What do I feel they should know about my industry, brand, product or company?
  3. How do I want to share this information?
    1. Blog Articles
    2. Advertising
    3. Images
    4. Videos
    5. Podcasts

4. Do I need outside support to deliver the frequency or quality I am seeking?

You will often hear a term on social media or in marketing that content is king. The reality is that content is not king. There are many articles, images, advertisements, videos that do not perform or get shared.

However, quality content is king. If the content is good, it will be shared provided you are distributing it correctly.

Or put another way, all the social media platforms are different. So you need to deliver your message on that platform in a way that is native to that platform. If you go to Italy, your trip will be far more successful if you speak Italian.

What Should Social Media Platforms Brands Use?

An easier question to answer than you may think. Sure with the emergence of so many applications and new social media hubs it can be confusing!

But here is a different way to think about this question. Where does your ideal client reside? What is there profile, age, gender, education or location?

Once you can answer this question, you analyse each of the social platforms and target your client base. You will find your ideal client resides on many different social platforms, but not all.

A few years ago many were on one social media platform only. It has now shifted, and we are seeing the emergence of the multi-platform user.

In a study completed by the PEW research centre. They found that the use of social media is not only on the rise, but that so is the multi-platform user.

“52% of online adults now use two or more social media sites, a significant increase from 2013, when it stood at 42% of internet users.”

Quite often, the home base will be Facebook, with Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, SnapChat or Instagram as a secondary accounts.

It is important at this juncture to note that social media is more than just understanding a stand-alone platform. It is about understanding the architecture of these platforms. Some leverage each other, and some actively work against each other.

Knowing which ones, and how is critical to the brand's success.

What Advantages Can You have by Understanding Social Media?

Being aware of the dominant and emerging social media platforms can enable you to have 1st mover advantages.

For example, are you using Instagram? They now have more users than Twitter. And:

“Roughly half of internet-using young adults ages 18-29 (53%) use Instagram. And half 0f all Instagram users (49%) use the site daily.”

Meaning not only can you engage with an active audience, but you can also build a significant following at a low cost on this platform. When compared to other social media platforms, and dramatically less when compared to traditional media.

Below are some simple examples of why having this knowledge matters.

Are you using Snapchat? That is where the Millennials are.

Are you using WeChat? It is how you sell to China.

Do you know about Meerkat and Periscope? And more importantly which platform you would choose, and why?

What is a Content Hub? (Converged Content)

A content hub model is a fairly new concept, and its way to integrate all of your content into one platform for distribution.

  • Blog articles
  • Podcasts
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Tweets

Essentially, all of your videos, tweets, blog posts, Facebook photos are aggregated onto one platform so that users are drawn to your environment. Alternatively, you can use this platform to redistribute content back over additional and other social platforms.

What is Curated Content?

Curating content is seen as a way to create enough content for the social web. It means finding pre-existing content across the social landscape that aligns with your brand's purpose. You then distribute this content through your social channels and hubs.

This content is not owned by you but lends to your story.

We are seeing a significant rise in this model due to the leverage it can create. The platforms and tools enable you to not only distribute this content but leverage these assets for your brand.

Another way to look at curated content is to look at brands like Upworthy, Buzzfeed and now A+. They curate and distribute content across social platforms.

None of the organisations owns the content, they reshape, add some context and distribute. They can even test headlines as many as ten times before deciding on the ideal one for amplification of the message.

Very different from a traditional copy.

Upworthy is being named by Fast Company as one of the fastest-growing media sites of all time.

Organisations or Individual Curating Your Content

A direct benefit of producing content means that some individuals who are content curators will pull your content into their hub.

It benefits them, as they will be seen as industry leaders, but it benefits you because it is your brand and is has earned media.

If the content is good and usually in this case it is, it will also draw individuals to your home website or content hub. Of course, allowing you to start building a direct relationship with them.

In the case of Upworthy mentioned previously. A video Adam Mordechai shared got 9 million views. The viewers raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research.

What is Social Media Architecture?

Social media is architected together by both the story and the technology. You do not just exist on a platform in isolation.

You create environments that all connect and have a common look and a story path to follow to your desired brand outcome.

In many of the platforms, you will notice that there are connection options to other platforms. For example, if you are on Facebook, you can integrate Instagram, Youtube, Twitter and Pinterest.

Knowing which ones to integrate and how to leverage this is vital to social media success.

Case in point, Facebook and Youtube are not the best of friends. Your video content will perform far better on Facebook if you upload it directly on the platform.

However, Facebook owns Instagram, so this integration makes perfect sense.

What is Frictionless Media?

The evolution of everything we do is about creating a frictionless experience. The more barriers we can take down to an individual or company can deal with us the more likely the success.

Frictionless media means media that is welcome, native and does not disrupt the user's experience on the platform. Disruptive media as we have known it in the past is on the continued decline for obvious reasons.

Regarding media, what this means is that we create content that serves two purposes.

The first purpose to add value to the consumer of the content in such a way that they are pleased they spend time engaged in our message.

The second purpose is to build authority and trust and to ensure we are building relationships with our target audience.

We do this by creating media and content that is native to the environment our audience is using.

What is Social Media Influencer?

To put this in context, we are now in a connected world, where anyone can become an influencer, and have an influence on a brand's revenue and market perception. They are not a celebrity in a traditional sense, but depending on the social media platform, they can create viral messages, equal to and greater than paid advertising.

Youtube, Vine, Instagram, Google+ all have their stars. Many of whom you have never heard of, but they have followers in the millions and can impact significantly upon brands

People like

  • Bethany Mota 8.5 million subscribers on YouTube and Videos that are viewed more than 10 million times.
  • Shaun McBride, “Shonduras” on Snapchat who has now worked with Disney, and Taco Bell

Both Bethany and Shaun can influence purchasing decisions with brands because they have built an audience that trusts and beliefs in them.

How do you do Influencer Management?

Historically there has been no payment taking place between a brand and a brand influencer. Although this is starting to change, and some influencers have been known to earn more than $100k a week for driving brand awareness and growth.

How do You Engage and Manage Social Media Influencers?

Management of an influencer relationship means understanding the Influencer, their audience and the best way to engage with each of them.

It also means understanding if that Influencer is right for your brand?

  • Do they have the right audience?
  • Have they previously had success influencing purchasing decisions in your category?
  • Are they genuine (authentic) supporters of your brand or product? Or could they be?

There is no collective approach. However, some models work best when looking to work with influencers.

Understanding how best to work with influencers can save you both time and money.

What is a Hashtag #?

A hashtag is a common way of communicating on most of platforms except for LinkedIn.

It is a way to communicate across social media mediums. It enables others to either engage in your conversation or go back and research particular areas days, weeks, months or even years later.

For example, #socialmedia #marketing #branding is hashtags a social media agency may use.

If we publish on any of the platforms using these hashtags, they will be seen by the audience interested in that area. Or they will be viewed at a later point by that same audience.

You can not control who sees this content, but it is a way for you to enter a conversation or create a digital footprint.

The New First Screen

Television is no Longer the First Screen. A term often used when mainstream media refers to is the first screen experience. For a long time now this has meant Television.

However I would suggest Television is no longer the first screen, mobile is.

It is important to understand; that mobile usage is growing exponentially. In Q2 2014 400 million people were using Facebook on mobile-only, and 25% of the total web usage is from Mobile phones VS 14% a year ago. Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends Report.

Tablets are outgrowing PCs, and Mobile’s are responsible for a significant shift in video downloads.

There are approximately 6 billion activated mobile phones in the world. This figure is distorted by the fact that a lot of users have two devices.

It is projected in 2014 that the number of mobile phones in the world will grow to over 7 billion.

Active users were assessed in a study by e-marketer to be around 4.55 billion, with 1.75 billion Smartphones.

As individuals, it is believed we check our phones somewhere between 150-220 times a day.

For a long time, Television was the first screen. However, I would contest it is now your mobile phone.

Consumption of advertising is dying on television. However, the advertising rates are dramatically higher than with social media.

From your phone, you can consume video, share content, exchange birthday wishes, order from your local coffee shop and every day its capability is growing.

How much money do I need to invest to get started with Social Media Advertising?

For as little as $50 Aud you can start advertising and testing content on the social platforms. It will not get you a significant way down the road. However, the point is you can start very small and grow from there.

In this scenario, you would need to create your content, and use the self-serve social media platforms. But if you want to start small, this would be the best way to begin.

Why would You Engage a Social Media Agency?

You would engage a social media agency because you feel they are better placed to execute your plans than you are.

As funny as this may sound it is the same reason you would get a builder to build your home. Unless you could do the job equally well, and the opportunity cost is in favour you would be better to let the builder do it.

How Much Does a Social Media Agency Charge?

It is more dependent on your budget than what an agency may or may not charge.

The factors to consider when choosing a social media agency.

  • What outcome are you looking for (Brand Awareness, Conversions, Reach?)
  • How much content do you want to be created?
  • How much of your budget do you want to attribute to advertising
  • How much research have you done? Or you would like the agency to do on your behalf in identify your target audience and their key drivers?
  • Do you know the lifetime value of your clients?
  • Do you know your current cost of client acquisition?

You do not need to know all of these in advance. However, at the outset of creating your platforms, advertising, and creating content, it is important that these areas and goals are well defined.

How Does this Work? How Does That Work?

The article is far from complete on all we know about social media. We have not touched on items such as “user-generated content.” Meaning you enable or encourage users to generate content around your brand. It could be as simple as a photo using your product, a creative Gif, or even a video.

We have not touched on the different social media advertising platforms and how they integrate. For that matter, we did not mention data analytics, measurement, and how to test attribution.

You may want answers to all of the above.

Other areas that we would be more than happy to give you answers on include social media advertising, native content creation and distribution. How do you leverage your existing client base, what platforms you should allocate the budget for, and which ones you should not. Understanding all the of what is social media is, is an ongoing process for the experts, novices, and intermediaries.

11 Key Social Media Mistakes


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